On May 13, 1985, newspapers reported that the US had sponsored a March car bombing in Lebanon.[i] In a failed attempt to assassinate a popular Lebanese civic and religious leader, the massive bomb devastated a crowded urban neighborhood, killing more than 80 people.
“Let it burn,” Isaiah told himself, sitting on the bus watching a mansion in flames on the side of the road. “Rich bastards.”
The Denver-to-Boulder bus had stopped on Highway 36 to let the red fire trucks pass. The mansion looked like it had been recently built and now its roof burned furiously. Isaiah had never seen the mansion before nor did he know the residents. All he needed to know was that it looked like some rich person’s mansion recently built over farmland.
After a minute, the bus continued north. Looking back at the fire, Isaiah could see yellow-clad firemen begin to spray the fire with a water hose.
Isaiah stepped off the bus at the Boulder bus station in the early afternoon. 19 years old and thin as cardboard, the suspicion that something great had just ended gripped his empty stomach. What that something was, he did not know.
With his long brown hair loosely tied back with a rubber band, he carried a small black backpack over his shoulder. Due to a prominent scar marking his left cheek, he presented two profiles to the world: fair on the right side and wounded on the left.
Inhaling, the air smelled different than Illinois air: cleaner, but drier. As he walked towards the campus, a black and white magpie cavorted in the trees above him, seemingly following him. In the sun, its black tail feathers flashed iridescent green.
“Brother bird, have you come to welcome me to Colorado?” Isaiah asked aloud.
“So when’s your friend getting to town?” Little Bobby asked Bobby, as they drank coffee in Little Bobby’s kitchen. On the table between them, two short lines of cocaine beckoned. Through the kitchen window, the white and grey tombstones of a cemetery contrasted with its green grass and trees.
“Supposed to be this afternoon some time. Haven’t seen him since he was a kid,” Bobby replied.
As a warm spring breeze blew in through the open kitchen window, both men sat shirtless at the table. Both clean cut and in their early 30s, Bobby had quick, intelligent eyes while Little Bobby cultivated a look of irreverent torpor.
“Good for you,” said Little Bobby. “You know, I’m serious about being done driving empties back. It’s just not worth it for me.”
“Me and his uncle used to be real good buddies back in high school.”
“Real good buddies?” asked Little Bobby, looking at Bobby questioningly.
“Not like that, but we tripped together a lot back then. Yeah… Three grand?” A vase of red tulips sat on the kitchen table between them.
“God, I love tulips. Really, man, I just have a bad feeling about it.”
Little Bobby shook his head and sniffled. His nose was chronically runny.
“So, does the kid know?”
“Isaiah? No. Yeah, probably. Through his uncle, I guess. Maybe not. He’s a good kid. His mom died in some weird accident or something a couple years ago. His uncle, Zen, my old friend, used to be Ben, right? I told you about him, he’s like super spiritual, a guru-type… I mean, come on, man, what, five, six, seven, ten grand? What?”
“Bobby, I’m just done. It don’t feel right. Not now. After the last time I got back from Florida, I threw the I Ching and it said ‘contract,’ as in ‘withdraw,’ ‘simplify’… like that.”
“Maybe it meant ‘contract,’ like a business contract.”
“Yeah, I knew you’d say that. I’m done driving: empties, full, anything, done. Find someone else. I’m just gonna work the bike shop and keep it simple.”
“Bobby, you promised you wouldn’t flake out on me again,” said Bobby, exasperated. “I mean, how many times…”
“Hey,” Little Bobby interrupted. “I gotta do what feels right, right? Last time I was in Florida, last month, it didn’t feel right. Like that one dick cop down there knows what’s going on and needs to make a bust just to make himself look good. You know?”
Bobby quietly set his cup down, shaking his head and gazing across the cemetery. Out the window, a long-haired little girl wearing orange overalls and a bright green tank top wandered through the cemetery picking wild daisies.
Welcome to Boulder
“Isaiah? Welcome to Boulder, man,” exclaimed Bobby, coming through the fence gate and striding across the back yard of his house.
“Hey Bobby,” said Isaiah. “Thanks, man.”
Both smiling widely, they shook hands and hugged awkwardly. Waiting for Bobby to get home, Isaiah had been fallen asleep on a cushioned lawn chair in Bobby’s backyard.
“Haven’t seen you since, what, you were eight years old or something? How you doin’?”
“Good. The Greyhound was all right. All night long though. Kinda tired but whatever.”
“Well, come on inside. You got your own bedroom and…” Bobby led Isaiah into his plain-looking ranch house. The interior resembled a new Holiday Inn hotel room.
“Yeah, that room used to be the grow room for pot,” said Bobby, pointing to a simply furnished bedroom. “You can stay in there. And the garage, through there, used to be for growing mushrooms.”
“Cool,” said Isaiah, dropping his backpack in the bedroom.
“Yeah, that was a good time. It was like an indoor farm. So… you hungry? Tired? If you wanna take a nap…”
“That’s cool, man. I’m alright. I’ll probably go to bed early, but… Actually, thirsty if…”
“Tell you what, you just make yourself at home. There’s the kitchen. Help yourself. If you want, we can go for a drive up in the Mountains later on, maybe show you around town some.”
Isaiah went to the kitchen and filled a water glass from the sink. Bobby sat on a couch in the living room, dark because of the closed curtains.
“Great. Yeah… I sure appreciate the hospitality,” said Isaiah, sitting in a living room easy chair. “My plan is to just get to California as quick as possible. I haven’t seen Uncle Zen in years and just totally am feeling the call to get out there.”
“Yeah. Good for you. Family’s important. I got a letter from him a while back. He doesn’t use phones, right? Yeah. I guess he’s started his own church or something?”
“Yeah, not a church, but like a spiritual group. He calls it the Inner Circle.”
“Yeah right, I never really understood all that soul travel or Inner Circle stuff, but if he’s doing it, I respect it. He could have taken the easy way out, but he does it his way, even if it’s the hard way, right?”
“Yeah,” replied Isaiah, shaking his head uncertainly.
“He probably thinks I took the easy way out,” said Bobby, staring at the carpeted floor. “I guess our paths have kind of diverged, but maybe they’ll converge again.”
Isaiah nodded and finished his water. The air conditioning kept the house quite cool and reinforced the hotel vibe.
The Rocky Mountains
Driving his black 1984 Jeep Wagoneer up Sunshine Canyon Road, Bobby pulled into a gravel turn-off with a panoramic view of the Great Plains.
“You can just about see Kansas from up here,” said Bobby, parking. “I like this spot. Gives me perspective.”
“Wow,” said Isaiah, looking all around as Bobby produced a thick already-rolled joint.
“Some indoor indica a buddy of mine grows,” said Bobby, handing the joint to Isaiah. “Three hundred bucks an ounce.”
“Damn, that’s expensive. It’s like a hundred or maybe ninety an ounce back in Glen Ellyn,” said Isaiah, smelling the joint and checking his pockets for a lighter.
“Yeah, well, it’s worth it. So, how’s old Glen Ellyn these days?”
“Same, probably. Land of wide lawns and narrow minds, like the old man said.”
“Hemingway, yeah,” said Bobby, handing Isaiah a lighter. “Yup, you know, back then, me and Benny were the only guys in the Glenbard West Class of ’71 to have pony tails? He was still Gentle Ben back then. Go ahead, take two hits, I don’t need much.”
“How often you hear from him?” As cars zipped by on Sunshine Canyon, the cloudless sky glowed a rich shade of blue. Isaiah pondered the word “azure” and passed the joint to Bobby.
“Just a couple times a year or something, but I still feel super-close to him. Even right now, like I’m digging being here, but I just wanna get out there to see him as soon as possible.”
From his car seat, Isaiah kept looking all around, up into the craggy red mountains and out into the absolute flatness of the Plains. A red-tailed hawk arced effortlessly far overhead.
“So, you got a girlfriend back home or a, uh…” asked Bobby, raising his eyebrows.
“Well, I just broke up with this girl Maureen a month ago but…”
“Me, I didn’t even know who I was until I was 25.”
A black Jaguar pulled into the turn-off and parked at a distance behind Bobby’s Jeep. Isaiah turned around and looked at the car.
“Don’t worry about that guy, he’s probably just cruising,” said Bobby, passing the joint to Isaiah.
“What?” replied Isaiah.
“Cops can’t afford Jaguars anyway. So, how you doin’ for money?”
“Uh, well, I got like almost two hundred bucks. I was working making like restaurant bun toasters for the last couple weeks.”
“Hmmm. Well, there’s easier ways to make money, you know?”
Bobby looked Isaiah in the face then down his chest. Not noticing, Isaiah took a second hit on the joint and passed it back.
“Yeah, people back home told me to mail acid and Ecstasy back from California ’cause it’s cheap out west.”
“Not bad. They front you the cash?”
“Yeah, well… You got that lighter?” Isaiah handed Bobby’s lighter back. In the rear view mirror, Isaiah could see the black Jaguar still parked behind them.
“We used to bring weed in on speedboats to the Florida coast. The main ship would be out in the ocean and we’d meet it and offload the bales into the speedboat. That was fun.”
“Damn, sounds like something out of Hollywood.”
“There’s money to be made out of Florida. But shipping weed is a drag. It’s big. It smells. And the profit margin for the size is not great.”
“Yeah?” said Isaiah, as Bobby handed the joint back.
“The CC, on the other hand, is tiny. And it doesn’t smell. Know what I mean? Anyway, enough of that. You wanna see my retirement home?”
“Sure, man. Like an old folks’ home?” Bobby pulled the Jeep back onto Sunshine Canyon and they drove higher up the Mountains. The black Jaguar did not move.
“Not exactly. Cash can be a real problem, you know? It’s bulky. You end up with shoe boxes of it in your car trunk and that’s not good. And it’s noticeable when a guy tries to buy a car or something with, like, fifteen thousand cash. So… when you find a deal where the seller is cool and will take cash…”
“That is one problem that I do not have,” said Isaiah, exhaling. “Yeah, well. Maybe some day, right?” They drove in silence for a while. The road dramatically curved ever higher. Bobby pulled off onto a private driveway on the right and headed around more curves.
“I just rent it for now. It’s too flashy for me, but it’s not in my name, which is a big plus. Once you start getting assets, that’s when the cops wanna bust you. But this is where I’m gonna retire. Like maybe in a few years. The tenants might be home and I don’t want to hassle them, so I’ll just show you the outside real quick.”
The driveway ended in front of a strange glass house. Nestled into the mountains on three sides, it looked like two large flattened glass domes joined on the edges. It had a panoramic eastern view of the Plains.
“Damn, dude. You own this?”
“100% paid in full. No mortgage. They pay the rent to me. I told them I’m just the property manager for the guy who owns the place. Not bad, huh?”
“I never seen a house like this. It’s like all glass. Or half glass.”
“I love it. Can’t move in here until I don’t have any more stones to throw, though, you know? Supposedly, some gay porn movie got shot here in the 70s, I don’t know. But that is my retirement home.”
Bobby looked at Isaiah intently then pulled around in the driveway and headed back to Sunshine Canyon. Isaiah, thoroughly stoned, still held a quarter of the joint in his hand.
“Go ahead and chuck it,” said Bobby. “Or keep the rest for later if you want. Whatever, I got more.”
As they drove past the turn-off where they had first parked, the black Jaguar had vanished. When they got back into Boulder, Bobby stopped at a parking lot payphone on 28th Street to make some phone calls. As Isaiah waited in the Jeep, he saw a black Jaguar pass on the street. It looked identical to the Jaguar that had pulled in behind them in the Mountains.
“Always do your business on payphones and always change your payphone,” advised Bobby, getting back in Jeep. “It looks funny if a well-off guy is always using the same payphone. Hey look, you hungry? I usually go over to my buddy Little Bobby’s place for dinner around seven. He’s a great chef. Or if you’re tired…”
“Yeah, man. Well, actually, I think I might just hit it early tonight and get rested up for tomorrow. I’m gonna check the University ride board in the morning to see if there’s any rides heading to Cali.”
Bobby and Little Bobby
The two men lay in bed at Little Bobby’s house watching the ten o’clock Channel 9 news. A number of Americans had been captured in Lebanon in the previous year. Little Bobby shifted restlessly on the bed, sniffling.
“By the way, I seen one of your tenants and told her that their rent was going up,” said Little Bobby, voice somewhat groggy. The news showed black and white images of five Americans held by unknown captors in Lebanon.
“Those Lebanese dudes are pissed,” said Bobby. “Can’t blame ‘em really. What, it was just like two years ago that the US was bombing the hell out of the place for some far-from-clear reason. What are you talking about?”
“You don’t charge enough for that place.”
“Look man, they got a one-year lease. They’re good tenants.”
“Lease shmease, you should get more for that place.”
“Dude…” said Bobby, crossly.
“Hey, it’s money in your pocket. I told the girl to add a hundred bucks a month to the rent.” Eyes a bit glazed, Little Bobby grabbed a medicine bottle off the bed stand and shook out two pills.
“Man, you should talk to me before you do stuff like that.”
“Well, you should tighten up your business affairs. Take care of number one a little more. Like this kid, Isaiah or whatever, you’ve known him for, what, one day, and you’re offering him a job?” said Little Bobby, swallowing the pills with a glass of water. “That’s real cautious, man.”
“Hey, why do we need a new empties driver? Huh? Yeah, so… And I’ve known him since he was a kid. And I’ve known his uncle since I was a kid. It’s all right. Plus he’d be cheap. He’d do it for a thousand bucks, I bet. Anyway, I haven’t asked him. Yet.”
“You gonna set him up?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No. I’m not. Come on, dude. I know this kid’s family. I wouldn’t do that.”
“You once told me you’d feed your grandmother to the wolves to stay out of jail.”
“I was just messing with you, bro,” Bobby said, putting his arm around Little Bobby. “I’m not really like that.”
Little Bobby looked at Bobby doubtfully. On the news, President Reagan vowed to punish those responsible for capturing the Americans.
“Uh huh,” Little Bobby said, raising his eyebrows. “Right.”
“Anyway, that whole thing was just a theory. One of the Columbians told a story, something about feeding a lamb to the wolves every once keeps the wolves happy. Maybe that’s true in Columbia, but… Up here it’s different.”
“Cause the kid would just tell the cops who he worked for.”
“Exactly. Down there, like the drivers and underlings are afraid of the bosses, but…”
“Yeah, you nark the kid off to that one dick Florida cop and he’d just roll on you.”
“Unless, theoretically that is, I had something on him,” said Bobby.
“Bobby Machiavelli. That’s who you are.”
“Shut up. You look cute tonight.”
“Bobby Machiavelli changes the subject with flattery. Don’t stop, big boy.” As a Bill Cosby New Coke commercial came on, Little Bobby rolled on his side and snuggled up to Bobby, sleepily kissing his shoulder.
Late the next morning, after Isaiah checked the University ride board, he got two dollars worth of quarters and found a payphone on Broadway on University Hill. Filling the phone with seven quarters, he made the call that he’d been both dreading and looking forward to.
“Hey Maureen, how you doin’?” he said in his best warm tone. A small raindrop landed squarely on the scar on his left cheek.
“Isaiah? I thought you’d forgotten about me,” she replied. “I’m okay. Finally out of that boring mental hospital.”
“Good. I’m glad. Look, I’m sorry I left like the day before you got out. I just… I didn’t know what to do.” A college girl who looked like a hippie Raquel Welch passed by on the sidewalk, smiling easily at Isaiah. He turned and watched her glide gracefully down the sidewalk.
“Well, your actions speak loud and clear.” Isaiah didn’t respond for some time.
“Maureen, please, I’m really sorry. I still care about you a lot. It’s just… I made plans to go visit my Uncle Zen and I’ve just felt really pulled to…”
“Isaiah, you don’t have to make excuses to me. We’re not boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, remember?”
“No, I guess not.”
“You guess not? You broke up with me last month then never visited me in the hospital. That’s not how you treat someone you ‘really care about.'”
“I did visit you in the hospital, on the first day.”
“Maybe, but not Mercy Center.”
“Look, you made me promise to stay in touch with you and I am.”
“Yes, you’re Mr. Isaiah Honesty,” said Maureen, bitingly. “Mr. True-to-His-Word. You love to brag about that.”
“I’m not bragging, Maureen, I’m just… Anyway, look… I’m just glad you’re out. I do hope you’re feeling better. It’s just… Look, I felt like I was the reason you were so depressed and seeing me wouldn’t help you get any better. Plus I’ve been super depressed lately too so…”
Another college girl passed. This one looked like a hippie Bo Derek, complete with cornrows in her hair. When Isaiah smiled at her, she frowned at him and quickened her pace.
“You’re a free man. Anyway, I met this guy in the hospital, one of the nurses. He’s really cool. We’re supposed to go to the Dead show at Alpine Valley next month.”
“Cool. Well… I just wanted to make sure you were back home safe and sound and to let you know where I’m at. I’m in Colorado and hoping to get to California any day soon.”
“You know a girl disappeared on the Prairie Path the day before you split? Mary Lou Thorsen. It’s big news here. Cops are all over the Prairie Path.”
“Mary Lou Thorsen? Damn. I knew her. I went to grade school with her. She was super shy.”
“Yeah, the day before you left town, Isaiah? Like three days ago. Where were you?”
“What? Come on, Maureen, gimme a break. That sucks. Mary Lou was a good girl. A little weird but… Hey, if the phone stops, it’s just ’cause I’m out of quarters.”
“Oh, okay. Well, I’ve got to get dressed anyway. I just got out of the shower and am sitting here in a towel. Have a fun trip.”
Click. She hung up.
Isaiah stood on the sidewalk with the phone in his hand and looked up at the grey sky. A black car drove slowly past. Startled, Isaiah recognized it as the same black Jaguar from the day before. After it passed, he realized it was a Datsun 280Z and felt foolish for being so paranoid.
When he got back to Bobby’s house, Bobby was in the backyard, pulling the cloth cushions from the yard furniture. A slight drizzle fell.
“Isaiah! Everything good?”
“Yeah great, no rides on the ride board though. I guess I’ll just Greyhound it the rest of the way.”
“Look man, c’mon inside. I got a proposal for you.”
Inside, Bobby settled on the living room couch and pointed to the easy chair for Isaiah. Again, the curtains were closed.
“Isaiah, I want to hire you.”
“I need a driver that I can trust. I take it you’ve got a driver’s license?”
“Heck yeah, I love to drive. Got no car, but…”
“Good. It’s a pretty easy job. And safe. I need somebody to drive empties back to Florida.”
“Empty cars. We get full cars in from Florida. That’s the dangerous part. But the other half is driving the empty cars back to Miami. It pays a thousand bucks a car. Plus you get a plane ticket out of Miami to wherever you wanna go. For you, San Francisco. Takes you three days, maybe four. And there’s nothing illegal in the car. Clean as a brand-new jumping bean.”
“Wow, man. Geez… Thousand bucks, huh?”
“Yup, you could leave today.”
“Damn, Bobby, it’s just… I’m super-set on getting out to California and seeing Uncle Zen like as soon as possible. I wrote him that I’d be out there right around now. I even had this weird dream last night that he was getting chased by the cops. I don’t know.”
“Well, you gotta do what you gotta do, but… Look, it’s about 2100 miles to Miami. Two, three days driving. I give you five hundred bucks for gas, hotels, food, whatever. You fly out of Miami to San Fran, you’ll be there, what’s today, Tuesday? You’ll be in California early next week at the very latest with a thousand bucks cash burning a hole in your pocket.”
“I don’t know man,” said Isaiah, getting up and walking to the fireplace. A shiny brass statue of the Buddha sat on the mantel. He rubbed the Buddha’s belly and thought of how much he disliked cocaine. It made people noisy and thoughtless and, now, here he was, contemplating working on the periphery of the cocaine trade. Turning around, he looked Bobby square in the eye.
“Screw it. Hell yeah, I’ll do it. Yes. Fifteen hundred bucks including expenses and a ticket to San Fran out of Miami? And the car is empty?”
“Yup, street legal as a registered full-blood beagle. When you wanna leave?”
“Hell, I’d leave today if I could.”
“Yeah? I hate to hurry you out of Boulder, but… If that’s what you want, great. The car’s in a garage on the Hill. I’ll get Little Bobby, you haven’t met him yet, right? I’ll get him to book the flight and you’ll be good to go.”
“Yup,” Bobby said, standing up and shaking Isaiah’s hand. “It’s good to stick with family and close friends for stuff like this. You know, people you can trust.”
A black and white magpie, perhaps the same one that had followed Isaiah when he first arrived in Boulder the day before, sat perched on the very top branch of a silver maple in Bobby’s backyard. Still drying off from the morning’s drizzle, he flapped his wings to air them out.
Puffing the black feathers on his breast, he chattered loudly and gazed southwest. On the very west edge of Boulder, the Rocky Mountains exploded from the Great Plains.
Eyeing the Flat Irons, rock outcroppings resembling huge stone hand irons, the magpie enjoyed the fresh smell of the air. The morning’s drizzle had finally washed the smell of the previous day’s house fire from the air.
Bobby and Isaiah walked in the front door of Little Bobby’s house. Bobby called his name but didn’t receive an answer. Still calling his name, they went through the kitchen into the garage. Little Bobby had the trunk open of a blue 1984 Toyota Camry and was messing with the spare tire.
“Hey man,” said Little Bobby, slamming the car trunk quickly. “You must be Isaiah.”
“Isaiah, this is Little Bobby,” said Bobby. Isaiah and Little Bobby shook hands. Little Bobby had a very soft handshake.
“Hey man,” said Isaiah, backpack over his shoulder.
“That’s the car,” said Bobby. “It runs great. Gets tuned up before every run.”
“Florida plates,” said Isaiah, walking around the car.
“I booked your flight,” said Little Bobby, sniffling. “Sunday night out of Miami International.”
“That’s five days from now, just to give you plenty of time,” said Bobby. “There’s a McDonalds next to a Holiday Inn a couple miles from the airport. Just leave the car in the back of the McDonalds parking lot. The address and directions are in the glove box. Leave the keys in the glove box. That’s it.”
“That’s it. Piece of cake,” said Isaiah. “Better than making bun toasters for $4.25 an hour.”
“Moving on up,” sang Little Bobby, leading them back into the house. Bobby sat at the kitchen table counting out cash. Through the kitchen window, he glanced up and saw the long-haired little girl wandering in the cemetery again, now wearing purple pants and a sky blue t-shirt.
“There’s a fifteen hundred bucks right there,” said Bobby, pointing to a small stack of currency on the table. Isaiah sat down at the table, while Little Bobby disappeared into another room.
“If the car breaks down, just get it towed, get it fixed. Whatever. The emergency number is Little Bobby’s bike shop. Area code 303 2 B OR NOT. Get it? That’s the number. 303 2 B OR NOT. It’s funny, right? Just call when you get there. Otherwise, only call if it’s a total emergency and just be cool on the phone and give your call back number.”
“Damn, it’s like all secret agent and stuff, huh? Love it.” On the far side of the cemetery, Isaiah could see a black car passing, but couldn’t tell what brand. His heart began to race.
“Hey, you gotta be safe,” said Bobby. “The drug war is real. But what you’re doing is easy. And legal. It’s just driving an empty car ‘cross country.”
On the Road Again
Isaiah drove the blue Camry south down Highway 36 to Denver in the early evening. The morning rain had cleared and once again the sky glowed crystal blue. Yet, his heart still raced and he couldn’t stop checking the rear view mirror.
With the windows up and the air conditioner on, Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” played on the FM radio: “you’re motoring.” In the rear view mirror, he could see a black car about an eighth of a mile behind him. It seemed to be gaining on him. On the steering wheel, a single bead of sweat formed on the middle knuckle of his left hand. He wiped it off on his jeans.
Isaiah exited onto Interstate 70 east. The black car exited too. He slowed down so the black car would pass him, but it slowed down too. Feeling paranoid again, he pulled off to lose the black car or at least see if it was a black Jaguar. East of downtown Denver, he exited on Havana Street south, watching his rear view mirror.
The black car didn’t pull off. Relieved and looking for a place to turn around, Isaiah drove on.
As he pulled into a Shell station to turn around, a black car pulled out of the gas station. It was a black Jaguar, heading back towards I-70. Then a Denver Police car sped by, also heading towards the interstate. Several beads of sweat formed on his left knuckles. Again, he wiped the sweat off on his jeans.
Checking the rear view mirror, he pulled back onto the street, away from the Interstate. Havana Street led by Denver’s Stapleton Airport. Trying to stay cool, but feeling his heart racing, Isaiah rechecked the rear view mirror again and again. When the exit to the airport came, he sharply turned in without a turn signal and accelerated. He couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like a black car was a block behind him. His forehead misted with sweat.
Little Bobby’s Barbecue
Back in Boulder, Bobby and Little Bobby sat at a picnic table on Little Bobby’s back deck, barbecuing steaks on the gas grill. It was that hour before dusk when the world sometimes slows down.
“I told you, man, I’m not gonna burn a family friend, or any friend, for that matter,” said Bobby proudly, drinking a bottle of O’Douls non-alcoholic beer.
“What are you talking about?” asked Little Bobby, getting up and turning the steaks on the grill.
“Isaiah. Last night you said you thought I was gonna nark him off to those jackass Florida cops. I’m really not like that.”
“Hold on, Bobby. Last night, in bed, you told me you had something on him, and you’d feed him to the wolves if, like, he was afraid enough of you. Remember? Like the Columbians, you said.”
“Yeah, sure. I mean, maybe, theoretically, probably not, but anyway, that’s not the point. The point is…”
“Bobby,” Little Bobby interrupted, jiggling the spatula in his hand. “I know I was buzzing last night, but you told me you’d… You told me you had something on him and that you were gonna double-cross him or whatever.” The steaks began to smoke.
“What? I did not say that. You started calling me Bobby Machiavelli or whatever, but I didn’t actually say I was gonna whatever.”
Little Bobby sat down across from Bobby. He looked him in the eye.
“Woops,” said Little Bobby sheepishly raising his eyebrows.
“‘Woops’ what?” The steaks began to burn.
“Remember when you came into the garage this afternoon with the kid? I had the trunk up?”
“You did not!”
“Yes, I did.”
“A fat eight ball under the spare tire.”
Bobby shook his head and drained the bottle. He crossed his arms and looked at Little Bobby accusingly.
“If he gets busted, there’s no reason he would not nark me, and you, off. I got nothing on him. Tell me you haven’t called that dick cop in Florida.”
“I haven’t.” The steaks smoked, but Little Bobby didn’t get up.
“You swear?” Little Bobby got up and took the steaks off in a desultory fashion.
“Now, I have to swear oaths to you? These steaks are ruined.” Little Bobby took the plate of burnt steaks into the kitchen. Bobby watched Little Bobby walk away then gazed somberly across the cemetery. The colorfully-dressed little girl was not there.
Isaiah parked the Camry in the long-term lot of Stapleton Airport. For several minutes, he waited to see if the black Jaguar had followed him. It hadn’t, but his heart still raced. The knuckles on both hands now sweat. Trying to calm down, he wiped his hands off on his jeans and wiped his forehead with his forearm.
He pulled a t-shirt from his backpack and wiped the steering wheel, the rear view mirror, and the gear shift for prints. Leaving the parking ticket and keys in the glove box, he locked the car without using his fingers and left the car with his backpack over his shoulder. A shuttle bus took him to the airport.
Dissolving into the crowd inside the airport calmed him some. Finding a payphone, he dropped in a quarter and dialed 2 B OR NOT. The phone rang twice, but he hung up before anyone answered.
Spotting the United Airlines counter, he got into line and tried to calm himself. Two young men in turbans stood in front of him speaking an unintelligible language.
“Welcome to United Airlines, how may I help you?” asked the United ticket agent. Isaiah couldn’t stop staring at the man’s walrus mustache.
“Can I change a Miami to San Francisco ticket to a Denver to San Francisco ticket?”
“One way?” The man typed into his keyboard.
“Seventy-five dollars, sir.” Because it covered his mouth, his walrus mustache seemed to move instead of his lips.
“When’s the next flight?”
“The next flight is… Actually, there’s a direct flight in an hour that arrives in San Francisco at 1:10 am, but it is fully booked. No… Yes, there are two aisle seats available.”
“Yeah?” A hard-looking man about 35 in a black suit stood in the back of the United Airlines line. When Isaiah looked at him, he stared right back with a sour expression.
“Sorry, yeah, I’ll take it. Definitely. Ummm…” Isaiah pulled a wad of twenties from his front pocket. “Hey, is there like a bank or currency exchange here and a, uh, post office?”
Isaiah followed the ticket agent’s directions to the World Wide Money Exchange. For half a minute, he stood in front of the shop hesitating. Finally, he walked in and impatiently waited in line, watching the clock.
“I need a money order for fifteen hundred, no, for fourteen hundred dollars,” he told the cashier, a plain girl his age.
“Fourteen hundred dollars? Yes, sir,” she replied, eyeing his long hair suspiciously. Minutes later, Isaiah left, carrying the money order in his hand.
At a convenience-type store, he bought a whole box of envelopes, stamps, and got two dollars worth of quarters. Sitting on a hard plastic chair in a gate area, he pulled his notebook from his backpack and composed a letter.
Man, I’m really sorry. The car was giving me engine problems. I couldn’t find a mechanic so I just decided to leave it at the Denver airport. It’s parked in the long-term lot section 7A with the keys and parking ticket in the glove box. Here’s your money back and I’ll reimburse you for the ticket when I can.
Thanks for everything and sorry,
He stared at the letter for a hard minute and almost gobbled it up. Finally, he stuffed it and the money order into an envelope. Addressing and stamping it, he dropped the letter in a dark blue mail box by the convenience store and threw out the rest of envelopes.
At a payphone, he dropped seven quarters into the slot and dialed a number.
“We’re not home so please leave a message,” said a girl’s voice on the answering machine.
“Hey Maureen, it’s Isaiah. Um, that was a tough phone call this morning, but I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to hear your voice. I miss you. Okay? Okay.” He hung up and quickly walked to his gate.
Out of the corner of his eye, Isaiah saw the hard-looking man in the black suit from the United Airlines ticket line waiting at a gate. The man ignored Isaiah. Isaiah avoided eye contact.
When Isaiah found his gate, he found a chair facing away from the crowd and sat motionless and breathless waiting for his flight. Still nervous, he convinced himself that the man in the black suit from the United Airlines line was about to arrest him. Every time that a bead of sweat appeared on a knuckle, he wiped it off on his pants.
Finally boarding the plane, a nun with a pretty face not much older than Isaiah sat in the window seat next to him on the airplane. He grinned at her and she returned an inscrutable look. Putting on his seat belt, his heart finally calmed down. Soon, the plane rolled down the runway and took off.
“California, here I come,” he said to the nun. She didn’t reply. Isaiah put on his wire-frame mirror sunglasses and slouched back in his seat, relieved.
[i] “CIA Link to Fatal Car Bomb Reported,” Chicago Tribune, 5, May 13, 1985.